The Maine Woods

A Publication of the Forest Ecology Network

 Volume Five     Number Two                           Late Fall 2001


by Jonathan Carter

The forest herbicide season is upon us. During the next several weeks the paper corporations will be using helicopters to spray thousands of acres of forestland with toxic chemicals designed to kill the hardwoods(maple, birch etc) in order to favor softwoods(spruce, fir etc.). The chemicals sprayed are not "morning dew", but highly complex poisons with scientifically documented impacts on human and ecosystem health. The primary herbicide poisons sprayed are Round-up and Garlon-4 with lesser amounts of Imazapyr, and Oust. While the paper corporations will try to minimize the public negative feelings about these herbicides by saying they are "safe" because they only spray once or twice at reduced concentrations and that they follow all safety guidelines as required by the manufactures - such as Dupont and Monsanto, the truth is that the independent scientific research and data on the toxic nature of these chemicals overwhelmingly supports the public's concern. The three important points to remember about herbicides: 1. herbicides are designed to kill, 2. herbicides don't stay where you put them, and 3. herbicides don't know when to stop killing.

FEN director Jonathan Carterat town meeting in Coplin Plantation to try to stop herbicide spraying by International Paper.

In addition to killing hardwoods and shrubs that are an integral part of the Maine Woods, these chemicals have a serious negative impact on essential soil bacteria and fungi, reducing soil productivity and increasing nutrient loss and erosion. Rare and endangered native plants are put a risk. The reduction in plant diversity limits the availability of preferred foods, shelter and breeding areas for mammals and birds. Plant eaters, like moose and deer, consume these chemicals directly and concentrate some of them in their livers and fatty tissues. Currently in Maine, hunters are advised not to eat the liver of moose and deer. They probably should also be advised to use caution and moderation when consuming other parts of these game animals. When the chemicals wash off into streams, ponds, and lakes, they can have serious negative impacts on fish and other aquatic organism.

The herbicides used in forestry also have serious negative health consequences for humans. The active ingredients in several of the most commonly used herbicides have been linked to the disruption of the endocrine system in mammals, leading to reproductive problems such as a decreased sperm count. Exposure to these chemicals has also been linked to immune system dysfunction. In a 1999 study a clear link was found between glyphosate, the active ingredient in the most commonly used herbicide, Round-up, and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system which has increased at an alarming rate in recent years. Some of these herbicides use petroleum based carriers, diesel fuel or kerosene which contaminate the groundwater and come with their own set of health and environmental problems.

All of the herbicides in current use have been inadequately tested to determine their full effects on forest ecosystems and human health. The continued use of these chemicals in the forest is a giant environmental experiment. For those who are interested in more detailed fact sheets on these herbicides, please refer to the Forest Ecology Network website at

Recently, the Forest Ecology Network worked with the local communities of Guilford, Willimantic, and Coplin Plantation to help them try to prevent spaying in their communities this year. I must give International Paper (IP) credit for responding to the concerns of citizens by placing a one year moratorium on spraying in these communities. Hopefully all three of these communities, will pass ordinances at the local level to prohibit the spraying in the future. Unfortunately IP and other industrial landowners will be spraying thousands of acres in unorganized townships where there are no citizens or governmental means to organize resistance to the spray program. To stop the spraying in these areas, it will require a statewide effort. Vermont already leads the nation, having legally established a five year moratorium. It would be smart for Maine citizens to organize and to follow Vermont's path of prudence.

I am hopeful IP, Plum Creek, and the other industrial landowners will respond to citizen concerns, not with more propaganda and media "greenwash", but with an openness to sit down and discuss the issue and to examine the non-toxic alternatives to herbicide spraying. We can avoid the polarization and expensive political fights of the past, if the industrial landowners are willing to listen and respond with prudence by eliminating their spray programs pending a full review of current scientific information on the dangers these chemicals pose to human health and forest ecosystems. The Forest Ecology Network would welcome an open and honest discussion, and be willing to participate in a review.

Related stories in this issue of The Maine Woods:

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